I wish I could make you understand how I feel when, walking home alone at night, I turn the corner to see a group of teenage boys. Or a parked car, men within, engine running. Or a single, smoking man, hanging out his window, wet eyes drifting to watch my approach.
I wish I could make you understand how I feel when, running with a friend, my body is appraised: right there – right when I am trying to celebrate it and make it stronger. ‘Wow,’ says a man coasting past on a bike. His long hair is drawn behind his narrow head, and his whiskers look like rope come loose. ‘Wow, wow, wow.’ And chapped lips purse, and teeth suck, and tongue clicks. ‘Didn’t know thighs like yours could run,’ says another man on another day in another city. A man made taller by his grinning companion, while mine shrinks beside me and forgoes tomorrow’s run.
I wish you could be there when I walk through the park on my way to work. When I walk through the park on my way from work. A long body leans obtuse into my face and leers, ‘Beautiful.’ And when I ignore him, a furious: ‘Hey!’
I wish you were there to see those things. But if you were there, they wouldn’t happen. We both know that.
You’re wounded by my Facebook post, and you make it known. But my Facebook post can’t wolf-whistle at you. Can’t wrap thick fingers round your arm and drag you, shoes skidding, down a packed street. It can’t wrestle your tights free – two sharp tugs past the buttocks, past the knees. My Facebook post can’t take pictures of you while you lie naked, sleeping. My Facebook post doesn’t headbutt you in the club, or thump you on the back, or force dry fingers in between your quaking legs. But my Facebook post is about these things. My Facebook post is me striking a match in the dark, and instead of your allied indignation, or your compassion, it draws your scorn and your skepticism, moth hungry, to tell the world how unfair the indictment is, and how good you are.
I had planned on making this a much longer post, but lucky for us all, last week something went ‘bump! in the right’ (hand), and now typing – together with getting dressed, cooking, washing dishes, and yes: playing guitar – has become a Herculean effort. Ever put on a bra with your non-dominant had? No? Me neither. It’s impossible.
First off, thank you to everyone who’s contributed to our tour fund. We are so struck by how kind you all are, and still can’t believe we reached our goal inside two weeks. You’re incredible. There are far more worthy things you could have spent your money on, and we know that. So, thank you.
It felt a bit cheeky asking you to help support our tour given the aforementioned farmoreworthythings™. So I thought about it: after four years of playing, why did we start fundraising now?
Berlin: Poor but Sexy
So we don’t quite fit the Berlin MO. But what we lack in sexy, we more than make up in the poor. And why? As an indie act, it’s hard to make music pay in this town. In Seoul, when New Blue Death or BaekMa had a goal in mind that required dollah dollah bills, what did we do? In a Crystal Maze-esque scramble for cash, we played a silly amount of shows – sometimes for just W50,000 – to float our savings and achieve that goal. Here’s what our schedule looked like ramping up to recording in 2014.
By comparison, in Berlin we played nine or so gigs in eight weeks and were ‘up’ after only two of them. Added to this is that most clubs do not have backlines and that means lots of taxis with gear. It’s a slower, harder slog; one we’re willing to do, but with a 33-year-old frontwoman whose body seems to be quite literally falling apart, it’s probably best we expedite the ol’ tour.
There’s everyone’s favourite overlord, TRESemmé saying, ‘If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.’ As far as funding bodies (and radio play for that matter) are concerned, she’s probably right. Much of the feedback we get is that we aren’t Irish enough, not quite local, not permanently based in Australia… Not of the somewhere that ordinarily might fund us. We apply, we do, but the feedback is generally the same: ‘Sorry, can we just check: only your X player is from Y? We’re afraid we can only support Y projects at this time.’ So when we book the likes of Women’s Work or get played on Across the Line or get a menchy by Nialler9 it’s so extraordinarily special. Even to careerist nomads like us, a bit of Terra Firma can be nice. Tayto at your fingertips included, of course.
So when we say your contribution to this fund means the world to us, we’re not joking. We’ll still be in the red; we expected to be. We’re doing what we love and naturally that takes sacrifice, but your kindness takes so much pressure off and for that we’re so very grateful. There’s a question mark over whether I can play or not, but knowing you crowd of glorious arses have our backs only makes me want to bring it more; guitar or no.
We still have a couple more days of the campaign left, so feel free to share. Maybe we can reach a K and get that house by the sea we always dreamed of.
But there’s a fear isn’t there? On the gallop, your legs begin to slip, your grasp begins to loosen. You bounce, a burden, on the labouring back. And what if they let go? Your palms sweat, your grip loosens. Doubt.
I am a haunted woman. I’m haunted within and without by a word; one I’m sure many of you are familiar with. It’s friendly looking, full of round and unthreatening letters, until you reach the final, punctuative ‘t’. It’s a ghost that sleeps behind me, breathing down my neck. A weight carried, unmaternal, in my belly.
I’m talking about ‘Doubt’. In the springtime stroll of life, cotton dress billowing, Doubt is the leering masturbator at the bus stop who sends you scampering home. Shouldn’t have worn that fancy dress in the first place, you think.
When I’m not working I’m trying to make music. (See that? Trying. That’s Doubt.) I’ve always felt compelled to perform. I used to tape balloons with drawn-on faces to wooden spoons and re-enact West Side Story in its entirety from behind the sofa. There followed puppet shows in my council estate back garden, am-dram, school choir, and a long run of pub singing.
Somewhere in middle of all this I discovered guitar music via The Bends CD I stole from my brother’s bedroom. He was angry, but it was worth it because I discovered that I loved guitar music. I adored it. I can still sing every lead guitar line from the first three Radiohead albums.
I loved it so much that I did everything I could to get closer to guitars: bought every gear magazine I could, glued every picture of every guitarist I liked onto my school art folder. My wall was a shrine to skinny, sullen shredders. I even wore a pick around my neck on a dog chain just like Green Day’s Billy Joe (judgment graciously accepted). I attempted to Pepe le Pew my way into the arms of as many guitar players my small town could offer—once resulting in a broken arm (another story). I did everything, in fact, besides actually learn to play the instrument. In the sweaty, sticky stretch of puberty, it never once occurred to me to learn guitar seriously.
Eventually I got a guitar on the tick from a catalogue. I learned how to play Zombie by the Cranberries. I learned how to hold it and look at myself in the mirror, sometimes sitting with it between my legs like I’d see girls do in literally every magazine. I only ever saw one girl play on telly: Alanis Morrisette. I was amazed. I turned to my brother: ‘That’s so cool!’ He changed the channel. ‘Fucking tacky’. That was the end of my brief love-affair with Alanis, because if there’s one thing I learned from my magazines it was that guitars were for boys.
When at 19 I decided to learn guitar seriously, I discovered to my horror that my male friends had 6 or 7 years of experience on me. It seems that in-between teenage masturbatory discovery and Key Stage 3 exams, they were learning Led Zeppelin and Sabbath songs. What was I doing in that time? Cutting out pictures of Pete Vuckovic from 3 Colours Red and gluing them to notebooks probably. Doubt came and punched me in the tit. ‘You are too late!’ it said to 19-year-old me. So I gave up, which is fucking funny because now I’m 32 and trying to learn again. Everything I can’t do is a reminder of how much ground I lost, just by being too dumb and impressionable to ignore the transmissions from trashy mags and MTV.
Doubt lounges on my bed, idly picking croissant crumbs from its crotch. ‘Too late!’ it purrs, turns over and farts wetly.
‘Haha!’ you say. ‘But there are lots of lady indie types! You, Maggie, are a whiny sow.’ I am a whiny sow, but that aside, while there are some lady indie types, and while I wouldn’t dream of taking away from their hard work and talent they all tend to have something in common: a comfortable class background. They were nurtured. Talent was cultivated. Risk was mitigated. Doubt was minimised.
St Vincent went to Berklee, as did Aimee Mann. Bjork studied classical piano and flute. Have you heard Bat for Lashes speak? It’s lovely; deliciously posh. It rings with comfortable confidence. Female indie musicianship in recent years has been the reserve of the middle classes. (Though, arguably, all indie is now.)
Do you know how much audition fees are to music and drama academies? Too much for many to try out even once, never mind second chances. Have a look at these fees from the RSAMD. Add to them travel, food, accommodation and it’s easy to see how working class nippers are kept out of reach of culture, one velvet-gloved palm to the forehead.
So what do I do? What do I grab hold of while I play catch up? I piggy-back on the talents and learnings of my betters, I tell myself. It’s a horrible thought of habit I still return to in my current outfit, Party Fears. That’s how I played with Garden Party, BaekMa and New Blue Death. A short-stay pass for the slow girl, Doubt says. But there’s a fear isn’t there? On the gallop, your legs begin to slip, your grasp begins to slacked. You bounce, a burden, on the labouring back. And what if they let go? Your palms sweat, your grip loosens. Doubt.
So why do music at all? Why not just watch Grand Designs and swoon at Kevin McCloud’s benign haughtiness? Learning guitar and learning piano is a frustrating business.
So why do I bother? If I’m so late, as that bastard Doubt keeps saying?
Because there is nothing in this world that I love to do more. There’s nothing I’m quite so good at, even in my limited ‘goodness’. Living and playing in Seoul gave me a bigger bite of the cherry and now I want to glut myself on it. It’s why I moved to Berlin in a personal act of financial self-destruction, a Party Fexit if you like– for music. I can’t not write music. I dream of it. I wake up with songs ringing in my head. Sometimes I feel sick with the need to sing, to play, to write, to perform.
Doubt withers in the performance because I’m not me anymore. The multitude fears: that I’m inadequate, that I’m a parasite feeding on the talents of my betters, that I’m a terrible person inches away from discovery or abandonment…
Fears piled on fears: ageing, money, the disintegration of the NHS, Trump’s America, Putin’s America… Air travel! They aren’t in the performance because I am not in the performance. I am erased. I have escaped into the shared bubble that floats between the band and the crowd. I at once vanish and appear. When everything comes together on stage, it sounds like precisely that: coital, cathartic, creative.
So there I am, trapped on the merry-go-round of lost time, and the one genuinely satisfying means of escaping those very regrets and fears. But it’s not all bad. Despite my moany disposition, I do possess some small capacity for growth.
I’m learning to say thanks more. I believe I have the best people in my life to help me and teach me, to bring my songs to life—guide me, encourage me. I might start apologising to them less, needing them less greedily than I do. It’s a reasonable goal. I’m trying. And I have the means to try. Many don’t, and that’s a decent reminder to try harder still. I’ll try to cosy up to that feeling more. I am fortunate. Freedom to learn, even now, even in my – gasp! – thirties: is a good companion. A better companion than Doubt.
I have a friend called Molly. She’s very cool. Serene. And she goes to concerts all by herself.
I’m thirty-two and I’ve been in 5 bands now, so you’d think I’d have some modicum of confidence when it comes to stepping into a live venue. But until this year I haven’t found the courage to do what she does. Being alone in overtly social situations is really scary.
‘Are my hands in a weird position?’ ‘Am I smiling or grimacing?’ ‘How long have I been staring at that woman’s odd earring?’ ‘Someone farted, will everyone think it was me?’ These are just some of the questions I might ask myself when I am left alone in a large group of people I don’t know.
Attending a concert with only yourself as company can feel less like a casual outing and more like floodlighting your insecurities in a room full of strangers. You never see quite so many couples or groups of friends who look like they’ve stepped out of a stock photo shoot as when you go to a gig alone. The wall becomes your friend and you stick to the shadows like a latter day Bela Lugosi.
I don’t know when I first noticed Molly at shows. A couple of years ago at least. She wasn’t always by herself. More often than not she’d be with a group of friends, a couple of them mutual. But when she did come alone, she would always stand somewhere near the front (showing Herculean strength of character in and of itself). I’d wonder who she came with, where was her crew? So one night I asked: “Who are you here with?”
“Just me,” she answered with a smile.
I was floored. How did this quiet, serene, peaceful individual do what I would never do in a million years? Me, who bounces off walls and is comfortable standing in front of a crowd wearing head-to-toe lycra?
The thought of milling around a dance floor alone was enough to give me back sweats. I mean, when a band’s playing it’s one thing: the stage is a point of focus, a liferaft in the sea of thunderous awkwardness. But between sets? In the endless minutes while the next band sets up? What do you do?
In Molly’s case you just stand there, looking cool, which is to say: definitely not looking at your phone.
Her brand of ‘cool’ is not lighting a cigarette while she leans, one foot resting against a wall. It’s not a beer bottle held artfully between thumb and forefinger, taking sips and watching people mingle with hooded eyes. Maybe it’s exactly her quiet, her serenity and her peace that makes her cool. The fact that she wants to hear live music and will go to see a band regardless of who goes with her. She just goes to gigs. Simple as that.
I’m trying to figure it out and not let friends’ prior engagements keep me from shows. I made it my mission to Molly the shit out of 2016. And I’m doing okay. I am now the girl who goes to shows alone. But the cool – I mean the phoneless, confident cool, the Molly cool – I’m still working on: I’m writing this on my phone as I wait for the next band to set up.
As of last week, I joined the ranks of thousands and began the search for work in Berlin. Why I left it so late to begin looking is another story.
In the myre of finding a job in a new city, it is at times hard to maintain a sense of purpose, of direction. Well not today, good people of Ballyblog!
After making it to interview for a content editing job and getting very positive vibes from the head of recruitment, I was finally told my application was not successful because I didn’t have enough ‘experience with Androids’.
They were absolutely correct regarding my level of expertise. Despite living in the Land of the Exploding Samsung for five years, I have been toting the same decrepit iPhone 4 since 2012. It has an impressively cracked screen, dies at about 20% charge and carries a distinctly spicy scent from when I made Kimchi Jjigae at my Aunt’s house and drunkenly emptied a 2lb jar of paprika into my bag.
So, while I understand and accept the company’s very polite and positive email telling me I was unsuccessful, I still spent my day with ‘Android experience’ circling around my head like a character in a rejected episode of Black Mirror.
There’s more techno to Berlin than the music (wehey!), there are also hundreds of tech start-ups. They’re the companies who have job postings most frequently for English speakers and in content writing. So while I continue searching for any job high and low, it’s becoming very apparent that I have to seriously improve my computer literacy if I wish to have a résumé fit for the jobs I really want. Entre Coursera and a parade of YouTube tutorials on HTML, SEO, and YMCA. The nights are drawing in and it’s time to knuckle down on my new studies.
Inle Lake, Myanmar. I’m in a narrow boat. My two Korean friends are behind me and a friendly Austrian chap is in front. We’re two days into the Burmese New Year water festival, Thingyan. The fesival begins around mid-April and lasts for four or five days. Four or five days of literal non-stop water throwing and hose-spraying . We’d been warned. Oh, we’d been warned about the utter chaos of Thingyan; about being run down by teams of teenagers on the backs of homemade trucks, and drunk Burmese blokes dementedly swinging their hoses like Leather Face in the closing moments of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre . Except he had an axe, which is way more dangerous than water.
Imagine Mad Max with Super Soakers. That goes some way to capturing the utter pelting anyone who wanders outside gets during the festival.
So here we are, two days in and I’ve started to develop a ringing in my ear from the number of direct hits I’ve taken to the head. I learned on day one the accuracy and power with which even the smallest child can launch a bucket of water at any moving target. If that target is a bumbling, guidebook-clutching out of towner then all the better. (This seems like a good time to remind you how difficult it is to run in flip-flops.)
Our boat edges its way between the houses of a floating village, the engine spitting black fumes that rise into the blue sky like a smoke signal. Ahead of us is a bridge that stretches between two buildings. There is a flurry of activity behind the windows. The noxious black clouds have been spotted. Children loom, buckets ready. My fingers curl around my ersatz shield: a lifejacket made for someone about twice my size.
As we approach the bridge, the first grinning child rests the lip of her bucket on the railing and begins to tip it up by its bottom. The bigger kids, arms straining, raise their buckets under their own power.
‘Oh no! No, no!’ I hear from behind me. Chung-gyo, being a regular sized human, foolishly wore his lifejacket and is completely vulnerable to their attack. He raises his camera, considers taking a snap, before his quaking hand places it beneath his seat. He resigns himself to the deluge, face raised to the sun and arms flung out like Willem Defoe at the end of Platoon. He opens his mouth and screams.
Gravity takes hold and the water spills out. The light catches it as it cascades downwards, the high-noon sun bursting through a prism of browns. Dark browns and light browns, some clumps of matter in there for good measure. Nice, brown, height-of-the-dry-season lake water. It hammers against my lifejacket, while behind me I hear Chung-gyo choke on the hellfire of his diminutive enemies. His girlfriend laughs and is rewarded with a single, mysterious water balloon to her chest. A sniper no doubt.
The kids cheer and wish us Happy New Year. The littlest girl makes an exaggerated sad face at me. She tugs at her shirt to indicate the lifejacket. It’s good-natured but I can tell she’s bummed out that she didn’t get me.
What kind of saddo denies a kid the pleasure of thoroughly soaking a grown adult in a water festival? With one disappointed glance the little bucket-tipper taught me the error of my uptight, dry-clothed ways. Ear infection or no, I wouldn’t deny another child the satisfaction of drenching me and possibly accidentally dropping their bucket on my head.
We’d been told about the inconvenience of travelling in Myanmar during Thingyan: the road closures, the shop holidays, the buckets and buckets of water to the face, but I can’t imagine a better way to see the country. I cannot overstate what a joyous festival it is. Even if you’re – inconceivably – more uptight than me, it’s just one of those things you must resign yourself to in order to fully enjoy your trip, like Irish public transport or British food. It’s worth it!
Before you ask, that’s not a picture of me. I haven’t dressed as smartly as that since 2011 when I was obliged to for work. That’s a picture of a nice lady waiting for an S-Bahn train. Or creepily watching one depart.
The ‘S’ in S-Bahn stands for ‘stanky’. Sometimes kids use it as slang. ‘Dude, those are some Stanky-Bahn Pokemons you caught!’
You’ll notice I’m talking about the S-Bahn with some authority. That’s because I live here now. And in case you’re wondering, as far as I’ve worked out the ‘U’ in U-Bahn stands for ‘Ughhhh’, but I gathered most of my data on a Sunday morning so that one’s up for debate.
It’s been a ride so far. I’ve only cried from feelings once since coming here. Most of the other times were from watching Season 4 of Orange is the New Black.
Since I’m still very new here in The Big Toke, I’ll attempt to distill my arrival and set-up into a trendy format known as a listicle.
My Top 3 ‘I’m Totally New Here!’ Experiences
#1 Let Me Fucking Live in your House
Getting established in Berlin is a lot like playing a game of Blind Man’s Buff, except the room is an indoor soccer stadium, the runaway opponents are mice, and you’re drunk.
In order to start work you must be registered, in order to get registered you need to be listed at an address, in order to get an address it’s desirable that you work. It’s an ouroboros of requirements that had me alternately running across the city looking at apartments and taking stress naps while I waited for the rejection emails to pile up.
Eventually, fortune smiled on me and I found a place in Wedding, which to many Berliners is the equivalent of saying you’ve moved to a bin on the moon. I like it though. It’s got trams and I get to live with a cat called Carlos.
#2 Party Fears is Go!
In the world’s most irresponsible trust fall, former BaekMa drummer person, Eilis joined me in the Berlin Party Fears adventure.
While I ran around the city smiling like a maniac at potential landlords, Eilis got to work on finding us a practice room, advertising for a bassist and setting up our first show.
We were lucky enough to find Juan who is a young person with very white running shoes and big hair. He’s from Uruguay and did a beautifully executed backwards tumble down a grassy hill when a homeless person asked him for his beer bottle. His answer to our bassist ad went something like, ‘Hi! I don’t have a bass but I love all these bands! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 :)’, and he proceeded to list what were by our estimation all the best bands ever.
He came for a jam and we invited him to join us that same day. We subsequently terminated our place at that very jam room near Treptower Park because I asked the sweary, stone-washed jeans wearing, adult male manager to speak politely which caused him to go into meltdown and he exploded.*
We played our first show to a lovely cache of people who were kind enough to start a friendly mosh pit at the front. I pretended I was in The Wildhearts and tried not to shit myself at the responsibility of having so many young people’s skulls travel at high speed towards one another. The bathroom was totally S-Bahn but that was okay because they let us use their amps and they were very, very friendly.
We have since bought our own amps which we will use as soon as we manage to force our way through the scene’s gluey membrane and book another show.
#3 Meeting People is Easy
It is very not. There are a few factors at play, the biggest being that for the first time in my nomadic life, I’ve moved to a totally unfamiliar city without a job already in place. Since I don’t have enforced hangout time via work, I have to wait for fate or my own ingenuity (lol) to smash myself into the temporal lobes of strangers. If I could print out friend CVs and shove them into people’s faces screaming, ‘Like me!’ I would.
Also, the city has a lot to live up to. I loved my community in Seoul. I loved it. I experienced more growth and self-discovery in Seoul than in any other environment. When I left I felt like a tooth that had been wrenched out of a perfectly healthy mouth.
So coming to Berlin where I start and finish most social interactions with ‘Uh…’ is jarring. And hard. Throw a trip to previous home-city Glasgow into the mix and Berlin seems positively tight-fisted.
Also, I am quietly terrified of meeting new people. Which surprises a lot of my friends, but shouldn’t. Here’s a picture of me at a party.
So Berlin, it’s not your fault, but beGod if I don’t want to blame you.
Despite the travails of getting set up I genuinely like Berlin. It’s charming and relaxed and, unsurprisingly, very cool. I like the people I’ve met here. There’s definitely a sense of the missionary about the city; about people having upped sticks to do more of what they love or be more of who they are.
It’s hard to remember at times why I made the move, but then Party Fears practice and my little world makes sense again. Also, I’m eating seven kebabs a week on average. And that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it?
There’s also Carlos the Cat. Who will love me despite literally all of his actions suggesting otherwise.
So yes, I’m optimistic. And as soon as I get a job I’ll be reasonably miserable again like most people, instead of occasionally rolling around on the floor full of kebab-fuelled ennui.